Kuwait country profile
- 3 December 2015
- From the section Middle East
Oil-rich Kuwait is a tiny country nestling at the top of the Gulf. Flanked by powerful neighbours Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, its strategic location and massive oil reserves make it one of the world's richest countries per capita.
A conservative state with a Sunni Muslim majority and a US ally, Kuwait stands out from the other Gulf monarchies for having the most open political system.
But tensions have persisted between parliament and the cabinet, controlled by the ruling Al-Sabah family, and the government is facing increasing calls for radical political reform from the opposition.
The State of Kuwait
Population 2.9 million
Area 17,818 sq km (6,880 sq miles)
Major language Arabic
Major religion Islam
Life expectancy 74 years (men), 76 years (women)
Emir: Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah
Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah has ruled Kuwait since January 2006. He served as foreign minister over a 40-year period during which time he was credited wtih shaping Kuwait's foreign policy and steering the country through the Iraqi invasions in 1990.
He served as prime minister from 2003 to 2006. As emir, he has maintained Kuwait's pro-Western stance and pursued a policy of cautious reform.
Kuwaitis are the most digitally connected in the region but the authorities monitor internet communications and block content deemed immoral or politically insensitive.
Kuwait's media are considered more critical and outspoken than others in the Middle East, according to a 2013 Freedom House report.
Nevertheless a press law forbids any references deemed offensive to God, the Koran and the Muslim prophet Mohammed. Criticism of the emir is also prohibited and courts can prescribe prison sentences for defamation and "attacks" on religion.
The press is characterised by its relative independence and openness.
Some key dates in Kuwait's history:
2000-1000 BC - Greeks colonise the island of Failaki then named Ikaros. It becomes an important trading post on the route from Mesopotamia to India.
1700s - Nomadic tribes from central Arabia settle in the bay of Kuwait City, among them the Al-Sabah family whose descendants now rule Kuwait.
1899 - British protectorate: Britain assumes control of foreign and defence policy amid fears of an expanding Ottoman Empire.
1930s - Oil: The discovery of massive oil reserves revolutionises the country's economy.
1961- Kuwait gains independence from Britain.
1963 - British military intervention forces Iraq to abandon its territorial claims and recognize Kuwait's independence. Kuwait becomes the first Arab country in the Gulf to establish an elected parliament.
1990-91 - Gulf War: Iraqi invasion leads to a US-led military campaign to liberate Kuwait.
2003 - Political reform: Emir issues a landmark decree separating the post of prime minister from the crown prince.
2005 - Kuwaiti women win the right to vote and run in parliamentary elections.
2012 - Unprecedented protests call for government reforms.